Walid Hasanato, Class of 2018
What are your best memories about being born and raised in Syria?
Well, I was born in Syria but raised in Saudi Arabia which is a bit different than the Syrian experience. Since Saudi is more of a conservative country, recreational centers and activities are limited. Nevertheless, I grew up in a financially stable family. We lived in a compound with a central pool and a garden in each house. So my favorite memories are some of the activities we used to do in the compound such as karate and swimming lessons, bike riding, and really all the week days I’d spend hanging around with my friends. I also recall being intrigued by video games; I remember video games that would make me stay up late thinking about their story line. Although video games seem to be a tool for killing time, I do believe this has pushed my imagination a lot further.
What do you miss the most?
I miss my family. Although we do tend to fight, my family is really understanding and knows how to have a good time together.
What about Syrian culture makes you most proud?
I think what is special about Syrians is our spirit and open mindedness. We tend to look forward to new chances and are very easily integrated into new societies. You can obviously see that in the Syrian students at UE. All of us are in different organizations and doing great with our classes. I don't know, it just seems like we have the right mentality for foreigners. Not to shame other foreigners, but I really don't see this kind of open mindedness in other immigrants.
Why did you choose to come to the US to study?
Well to be honest, the US was one of many choices available during my senior year of high school. But it became a much more realistic choice when I received a scholarship to UE; from there on the choice was simple. I mean, going to a university in one of the strongest countries in the world is an opportunity you don't get every day.
What challenges did you face while traveling here?
I used to live in a very urban and large city in Saudi called Jeddah. So the openness of the Midwest was a bit terrifying to me. I was used to walking down street with a frown to avoid any unwanted conversations with potentially harmful strangers and was also used to only being open with my family and friends. I remember my first day on campus and how a lot of people I didn’t know were saying "hi" to me. Even more so, people I just met would start telling me things or complaining about very personal issues. I didn’t like it at first, but it is much easier to socialize when people are in this relaxed and welcoming mood. I got used to it although it still does get to me every now and then. I try to be smiley and warm myself, but still haven’t become good at it yet.
What were your preconceived notions about Americans before you came here and how have they changed?
There are numerous stereotypes about the US, but there was one I strongly believed. I thought that everyone here was extremely misinformed or ignorant about issues outside of the US. To be honest, there is a lot of ignorance, but there are also a good amount of informed and intelligent people, some of whom are helping me with this project.
How does it feel to be a Syrian student at UE in 2016?
I'm happy here, I feel at home now that I'm settled. I know a lot of people on campus and I try to help freshmen as much as I can, especially since I'm a math tutor.
Have you experienced any positive or negative feedback here on campus or in Evansville?
On campus, I've rarely received negative feedback. Most of the people are helpful and understanding and I'm blessed for that.
What are the scariest, greatest, and most difficult things about living in the U.S.?
I've visited a number of cities in the US and something that constantly crosses my mind is gun violence. I don't see myself as a gun owner, although every day it seems like it is more necessary to own a gun because of the increasing violence caused by them. Ironic, I know. The thing I like about the US is that it makes sense. To explain, there are a lot of hardships but if you work hard enough, you will probably succeed. That isn't the case everywhere else in the world. You can work and study as hard as you can now in Syria but that won't get you anywhere. The hardest part about living in the US is time management. With the workload I have, time seems to be flying!
What words come to mind when you think about Syria’s civil war?
Tragic, misunderstood, ignorance, and deception.
What else do you want us to know about Syria, and about you?
I want people in the US to understand the historic value of this country. It isn’t any other desert Middle-Eastern land you see on the news; this is a beautiful country painted with beautiful forests, mountains, and sea. Major religions, including Christianity and Judaism are rooted in this land. Important figures, from scientists to historians, were born there. It is a huge loss to this planet everyday an inch of Syria is harmed.